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Junction East project’s costs double to $93.2M

Massive cost increase notwithstanding, city’s elected officials appeared largely supportive during tonight’s special city council meeting for the latest version of the Junction East central library/art gallery building in downtown Sudbury
An artist’s rendition of the proposed Junction East building, as seen from Shaughnessy Street looking east.

The Junction East project is now projected to cost $93.2 million, only $12.3 million of which the city has confirmed or committed.

This figure is roughly double the original price tag of $46.5 million that was projected a few years ago.

“The original numbers were an approximation by the consultant at the time,” city Strategic Initiatives, Communications and Citizen Services director Ian Wood told after tonight’s special city council meeting, which was devoted solely to the Junction East project. 

“Certainly, there’s no dispute that in the last five years there's been significant cost pressure on construction.”

Various other factors are also at play in the cost jump, including the discovery of unstable ground at the proposed site off of Shaughnessy Street on what is currently a parking lot outside of the Sudbury Theatre Centre.

Recent ground testing uncovered the problem, which Wood said is “very common in downtown Sudbury.”

During tonight’s meeting, the latest incarnation of the planned Junction East project was presented in depth, and includes a new central public library slated to be its largest tenant followed by the Art Gallery of Sudbury. Space has also been set aside within the building’s 104,000 square feet for the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association. 

Although the city’s website still listed it as a proposed 62,000-square-foot facility as recently as tonight, Wood said that it has been planned at 94,000 square feet for a few years, making the recent increase in square footage less substantial. 

The Sudbury Theatre Centre was also listed as a future possible partner, but they do not carry any of the facility’s square footage in the floor plans presented tonight.

Despite this, Sudbury Theatre Centre chair Patricia Meehan said that they’re optimistic Junction East will create “synergies” between the two buildings and the organizations within them.

“Obviously we’re disappointed not to be in this beautiful new building,” she told city council tonight, adding that their decades-old building standing next to Junction East “in comparison will look a little sad.”

The costs associated with Junction East were already ballooning by last summer, at which time city administration estimated that its price tag had jumped by approximately 21 per cent.

Since it was initially proposed, however, the project has taken different forms. It was originally to take residence at the current site of the Sudbury Community Arena, for example.

In March, city council gave direction for an additional $6.1-million expense to be added to the project in order to accommodate various environmentally minded components in keeping with the city’s Community Energy and Emissions Plan goals. It is now projected to carry a net-zero carbon emissions footprint.

In addition to environmental sustainability, an additional $4.4 million is being spent on enhanced accessibility throughout the building, which includes a long ramp that leads visitors from the first to second floors.

Baked into its current $93.2-million cost is an agreement to purchase a lot adjacent to a city-owned property to the immediate west of the proposed site on Shaughnessy Street, Wood said, adding that “the intent is to develop those two lots into specific parking to address the needs of Junction East.”

As it stands today, Wood said the $93.2-million price tag for the project, which has changed in location and scope since it was initially proposed, is a more reliable figure.

“We have quite good confidence in what we have.”

“I am shocked at the price tag, I’m not going to kid anybody about that,” Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc said during tonight’s meeting, during which he recommended alternative locations, such as the old St. Joseph’s Health Centre building on Paris Street. 

After the meeting, Leduc told that “at $93 million I fell off my seat.”

Although city staff engaged in public consultation, he said the figure bandied about at the time was $46.5 million and not the $93.2 million now projected.

“I don’t believe that we have the public support to move forward on this,” he said, adding that he’s not opposed to the project, but concerned about the city’s ability to pay for it. 

A net loss in municipal parking spots under the current proposal will subtract hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from the city coffers each year, Leduc said – an argument Mayor Brian Bigger countered tonight by noting that Junction East would draw more people downtown and bolster overall parking revenue as a result.

Alongside commending the Art Gallery of Sudbury for pledging $1.5 million in fundraising toward the project, Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh said that she’d like to see them raise more. 

With the mining industry doing well as a result of rising nickel prices, she said there should be more money out there to raise for projects such as this.

Plus, she said, “The province should be here and contributing to this project in a much bigger way than it is.”

As it stands, the city’s only committed funds include:

  • Federal grants: $800,000
  • Municipal debenture: $10 million 
  • Art Gallery of Sudbury fundraising: $1.5 million

Potential funds include $17.5 million from the federal government, $2 million from the province and $2 million from the Greater Sudbury Public Library.

It’s also recommended that the city reallocate a $58-million debenture originally set aside for the Junction West project to Junction East.

Both debentures related to the Junction projects have already been secured by the city and were included in the $200 million in debt the city took on in 2020 for major projects. 

Junction West, which was planned to accompany Junction East and feature a large convention and performance centre alongside a private hotel, has stalled during the pandemic.

Although Wood indicated in January that the city was working to put a plan together to restart the project, he said tonight that “the stars have not aligned for Junction West.”

The estimated operating cost for Junction East during its first year is $1.63 million, which is anticipated to escalate by an average of three per cent during its first 10 years.

Despite rising construction costs, the majority of the discussion around council chambers tonight centered on support for the proposed Junction East facility as presented to them, which will prepare a more detailed report on tomorrow. 

“As a city council, I think we’ve entered into a new era of development here,” Bigger said near the close of tonight’s meeting. “Where in the past the design and what’s been built often was lowest cost, lowest bidder gets the job, and I really, really appreciate the importance of the elements of beauty and pride and creating this atmosphere and this destination that I feel when I look at the renderings.”

No decisions were made at tonight’s special city council meeting, which was intended for information purposes only. It’s anticipated that a request for proposal and quote is issued tomorrow to pre-qualify a general contractor alongside a request for proposal for a building commissioning agent.

On May 24, city council is expected to submit questions and request for responses prior to a decision meeting in Mid-June, at which time council will be asked to approve a project design, financial plan and operational plan. 

Following the projected timeline, a tender award and contract would be issued during the first quarter of 2023 and the building would open in spring 2025.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for